Five Questions With Mary Ann Brooks
Name: Mary Ann Brooks
Title/Occupation: Dancer/Performance Artist
1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?
I grew up in Hartford and Manchester Connecticut. We moved to Manchester, Connecticut when I was about six and now I am living in San Francisco. Most of my family is still in Connecticut and Autumn will always be my favorite season as a result of my time there. I left for California when I was 22. I travel often, but always come back to San Francisco.
2. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?
“My only true country is my body”. Faustin Linyekula I am mostly influenced and inspired by visionaries. My top six are: singer Nina Simone and her version of Leonard Cohen’s song “Suzanne”, writer Toni Morrison and her books Beloved and Sula, writer and visual artist David Wojnarowicz and his art book Memories that Smell like Gasoline, director Robert Wilson and his work “Einstein on the Beach”, and contemporary Congolese choreographer Faustin Linyekula’s work “Triptyque” as part of his “Festival of Lies”. I am particularly interested in Linyekula because he deconstructs traditional Congolese dance, synthesizes it with contemporary dance, while delving gracefully into the complicated politics of history–his own and that of the Congo. His work is beautifully crafted, global, and interdisciplinary (he incorporates story tellers and a soukous band into his dance company).
I am also deeply influenced by the aesthetic of the Judson Church artists who broke all boundaries of what was then considered modern dance and turned dance into an investigation of the body and it’s anatomy merging this awareness with leaving the theater and creating site specific socially engaged experiments in theater, dance and performance. They were also an interdisciplinary bunch and I am very much interested in an artistic dialectic that crosses every boundary imaginable while engaging all of the senses. To stretch the boundaries of performance and art even further, what sparked my interest in art in the first place was being a theater/dance student in New York City in 1992 and witnessing ground breaking performance art (especially underground queer performance art and art). It was all about the body then. People were really taking risks on stage and the political climate was volatile. I was catching the end of the ACTUP, Queer Nation era and artists were talking, screaming and protesting against ignorance around AIDS, racism, sexism, homophobia, and the effects of war in their art. The body in it’s vulnerable, politically charged state was placed front and center.
3. What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?
Sometimes I wish I had grown up with training in ballet, acrobatics, tap dance or some kind of specialized movement form, but my mom is a born again Christian and took me out of dance classes by the time I was five so I never got the early training. My feelings are mixed about the being “trained” as a child because it can also turn people away from being creative if they had a negative experience associated with their training. However, I have to work a little bit harder when I dance in a company (currently I dance with Fly Away Productions-an aerial dance company) because it takes me longer to memorize choreography. In my own work I am mostly interested in improvisational dance and setting structures and scores that create a container for the choreography I create. I also see myself more as a performance or movement artist since I use my body as the site for my performances but I also create visual landscapes with film, text and music. All that said, I do feel that because I didn’t get the early dance training that I am always working harder than every body else. I just have to put in the extra time.
4. What do you do to make a living? Describe a normal day.
I work for an educational farm that is rural but I am the Urban Youth Development Coordinator so my focus is food justice and educating urban youth about where their food comes from. The farm is called Pie Ranch and we actually grow ingredients that go in pies like wheat and strawberries. I also teach yoga to kids and creative movement to kindergartners. Sometimes I teach dance to adults, and depending on the season, I may be rehearsing for a show of my own, or with the dance company. I make money from all of the above. I don’t have any normal days.
5. Have you ever had to make a choice between work and art? What did you choose, why, and what was the outcome?
Yes, I went through an existential crisis about making art versus being an activist. I thought that I would like to be a farmer and work the land so that when “the revolution” came I would be ready and I could contribute by teaching people these basic survival skills like growing their own food. I lived on a farm for two years and discovered that I could not live without making art, art is not separate from life and my art is my activism.